In a message posted on Twitter two years ago, the artist Raymond Pettibon expressed his thanks to two friends who paid him a visit.
“Thank you Christian Rosa and Henry Taylor for stopping by,” he wrote. “Great artists and nice, genuine people. You made my day.”
But according to federal prosecutors, Mr. At the time, Rosa was involved in something that was the opposite of the real thing: he planned to make counterfeits of Mr. Pettibon to sell.
In an indictment announced on Wednesday, Mr. Rosa has been charged with wire fraud in the sale of four paintings purporting to be the work of Mr. Pettibon and which were supported by certificates of authenticity on which Mr. Rosa is accused of forging Mr. pettibon.
mr. Rosa “robbed buyers of hundreds of thousands of dollars and risked the legacy of a New York artist through his forgery,” Damian Williams, the US attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement.
Mr Rosa, 43, lived in California but fled the United States in February and is still at large, prosecutors said. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charges against him. It was not clear whether he had a lawyer.
Mr Pettibon could not be reached for comment. Representatives from David Zwirner, the gallery that represents him, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday night, nor did his studio’s head of operations.
The indictment provides the following account of the events leading up to the indictment:
From 2017 and last year, Mr. Rosa along with others to sell the four pieces, which he falsely represented as Mr. Pettibon’s “Wave Series”.
In 2018, Mr Rosa enlisted the help of an unidentified buyer to arrange the sale of two of the counterfeits to a second unidentified buyer. (In thanks for the help of the first buyer, Mr. Rosa gave the person another so-called “Wave Series” painting.)
Sometime in 2019, Mr. Rosa emails out with a friend about looking for buyers “for certain unnamed paintings”. In one of the emails, Mr. Rosa wrote that “they ask about the certificates, how do we get them.”
At one point, a friend of Mr. Rosa’s asked why the sales were taking so long. Mr Rosa replied that he wanted to find a buyer who would not resell the works at auction.
“I’m trying not to get caught, so that’s why it takes longer,” he wrote.
Mr. Rosa used the proceeds from the sale of two of the paintings for a down payment and mortgage payments on a California home, prosecutors said.
In 2020, the unidentified first buyer — after trying to help Mr. Rosa sell other works purportedly belonging to Mr. Pettibon — bought the two other counterfeits at issue in the indictment.
The plan began to unravel when the website Artnet published an article about allegations that Mr. Rosa had forged one of the paintings sold to the first buyer and put up for sale by a subsequent buyer at a New York auction house.
Dealers who saw images of one of the paintings up for sale “became suspicious when they noticed that there was a seemingly strange yellow-green mixed with “the “normal cobalt blue hues” of Mr. Pettibon, according to the Artnet article, adding that “the artist’s signature scribble seemed a tad too polished” too.
The day after the article was published, the indictment says, Mr. Rosa emailed his friend that “the secret is out.” Less than a month later, Mr. Rose the United States. A few months later, he sold the house in California and tried to transfer the proceeds from the sale abroad.
Mr. Pettibon, 64, first gained a lot of attention in the ’80s and ’90s with his comic book cover art on albums by punk rock bands like Black Flag, the Minutemen and Sonic Youth.
His early plays often mixed images of baseball greats, Hollywood stars and superheroes with those of bikers, mobsters and infamous American figures like Charles Manson and J. Edgar Hoover.
As his career progressed, he focused more on big works with often huge waves looming over surfers who seemed small. Some of his later paintings have sold for $1 million or more. He was the subject of a major retrospective at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in Manhattan in 2017.
Mr. Rosa himself was once a rising star in the art world. The market for his work peaked in the fall of 2014, when one of his paintings sold for $209,000 at Christie’s in New York, according to the Artnet article. A year later, the Artnet article says, a similar work by Mr. Rosa sold at Sotheby’s for $30,000.